Recommendation: A magical tale and short, quick read that has some fun and excitement, but ultimately fails to deliver much of a punch. Once the introduction into this odd world is set, things basically go as you would expect them to. It’s an entertaining ride, but it’s not one that you take much away from.
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This was my first excursion into the world of Neil Gaiman, and I have to admit I wasn’t as impressed as I hoped to be. There is no doubt that the man is creative and he seems a solid writer, but there wasn’t much to take away from this particular attempt. It was a little flat around the edges, focusing on the magical aspects a little too much and leaving out important characterizations for everyone except our unnamed narrator.
But before I get too far into my analysis, here’s a brief synopsis. In The Ocean at The End of The Lane, our unnamed narrator is an adult returning to his home town for a funeral when he feels drawn to his old neighbor’s house. Upon meeting the neighbors, he begins to recall a Repressed Memory of his friendship with the neighbor’s daughter, Lettie. Lettie introduces our narrator to the world of magic, bringing him along on a mission to vanquish an unhappy spirit. However, things don’t exactly go as planned and the spirit uses our narrator as a vessel into the human world. The narrator’s connection to this spirit threatens to take his life and he must enlist Lettie’s help to lock the spirit back where she came.
The description on the book calls it a fairy tale, and that’s actually pretty accurate. Our young narrator is introduced to magic, gets in trouble because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and has to get out. The problem is that this fairy tale is a book aimed at adults. Fairy tales are fine, and they work really well to direct children into another world and make them think in a different way, but it doesn’t work as well when you’re older. Thus, Gaiman’s latest book doesn’t really work that well.
At 24-years-old, if someone handed me a fairy tale that I’d never read before, I’d breeze through it, probably find some entertainment in my reading, and then put it down and continue on my way. That’s exactly how you will feel about The Ocean at The End of The Lane. Technically, it’s new. I’ve never read a story that goes exactly like this one and I’ve never seen magic deployed precisely the way Gaiman does. But it still feels rehashed. It follows the broad expectations of the genre without really giving you something particularly great to hold on to. You’ll wait for something new to happen and wait, and wait, and wait.
I’ve heard great things about Sandman and American Gods so I’m not trying to write Gaiman off, but this book is nothing special. If you love Gaiman and want to own all his works, then go ahead and buy this title, put it in your collection and never think about it again. You won’t exactly feel like your money is wasted, just that it could have been put to better use. Plain and simple, this is not the Gaiman book that you should be running to the store to buy.